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Writing Jewish Characters: Summer Holidays

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Today we’re going to be discussing the three Jewish holidays that fall during the summer - the Seventeenth of Tamuz, Tisha B’Av, and Tu B’Av.

Unless your characters are very involved in Jewish life, they are unlikely to observe any of these holidays, though Rabbis tend to - which may affect wedding dates if your characters are having or attending a Jewish wedding!

Tisha B’Av is by far the most major of the three, although the period between Tzom Tamuz and Tisha B’Av (covered under both headings) will likely have the most impact on the characters you write.

The Seventeenth of Tamuz (Tzom Tamuz)

The Seventeenth of Tamuz falls (unsurprisingly) on the seventeenth day of the month of Tamuz, which can range from June 25th to July 24th. This is forty days after Shavuot, the same amount of time from Moses ascending Mount Sinai to when he came down the first time.

It is a minor fast day (for details look at this post) which officially commemorates the beginning of the destruction of the Second Temple. Other calamities are remembered on this date, including Moses’s destruction of the two tablets on Mount Sinai due to the sin of creating the Golden Calf.

However, this holiday is super important when it comes to writing. Especially if you’re writing a love story/romance and have the characters get married/attend a Jewish wedding. You see, the Seventeenth of Tamuz marks the start of the three weeks of mourning which lead up to Tisha B’Av. During this period, observant Jews go into pseudo-mourning, avoiding celebrations, particularly marriages. This is considered a very unlucky time to get married, as it is a time of mourning, not celebration. Jewish custom considers this a period of bad luck, and getting married during this time is seen as testing God’s wrath.

If you plan on having a Rabbi perform the ceremony, you need to check to make sure your characters’ planned wedding doesn’t fall during these three weeks! This caveat applies whether your characters are observant Jews or not - the Rabbi will likely not be willing to perform a wedding during this period, so your characters may simply not have the option when choosing dates.

As an example, my stepbrother, who is an atheist but grew up Jewish, wanted to get married during this period back in 2005. My stepfather, who is an observant Conservative Jew, objected strenuously. Ultimately, the wedding did happen then, but my stepbrother and his wife (who is I believe Episcopalian) got married in a civil ceremony on St. Lucia to which they invited no one.

Similarly, in 2015 I had four Jewish weddings in the summer/fall. The earliest one happened toward the end of August, well after this period. They’re just dates to watch out for.

Tisha B’Av

The last nine days of this three week mourning period are (again unsurprisingly) called the Nine Days. Yeah, so we’re literal. At least it’s easy to remember? :)

Observant Jews take the pseudo-mourning they’re doing and step it up for these nine days. Many Jews don’t eat meat or drink wine during this period.

This applies even to kosher restaurants! Many kosher restaurants will create a completely vegetarian/pescatarian menu for this period, including even steakhouses. In fact, I walked by the kosher food court stands in Grand Central Station just this morning, and the meat one had a sign saying “for a full nine days menu, go to the dairy counter.”

Finally, the period of mourning culminates in Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, which can fall between July 15th and August 14th. This day commemorates the final destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as a number of other smaller calamities, including the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt and multiple times Jews were expelled from various European countries, including most notably Spain in 1492.

As a note, there will eventually be another post on the concept of diaspora and why the Jewish relationship to Israel is what it is today. But as a general rule, Jews have been persecuted and kicked out every place we consider home for hundreds of years, with the Holocaust being only the most egregious example. I don’t want to get political here, but to discuss this in depth I’ll have to.

Tisha B’Av is one of only two major fast days in the Jewish calendar (the other being Yom Kippur) and the second most likely fast day to be observed, after Yom Kippur. (For details on major fast day observance, please see this post.)

This is a particularly hard fast day to observe in the northern hemisphere, as 25 hours with no food or water is difficult in the heat of summer. However, a lot of Jews, particularly more observant Conservative and Orthodox ones, do observe it in at least some form. If they do, your characters will likely be tired, dizzy, and possibly snippy by the end of the fast - dehydration is a serious concern in this weather!

Tu B’Av

Mourning’s over, let’s get more cheerful!

Tu B’Av, which falls on the 14th of Av, is a very minor Jewish holiday that celebrates love and is sometimes referred to as “the Jewish Valentine’s Day”. It can fall between July 22nd and August 20th.

This holiday is not celebrated most places other than Israel, and even there the celebrations are minor - though it is considered a great day for weddings! Basically, go out and have fun!

This could be a fun tidbit to include on a trip to Israel or while writing about your characters interacting with more religious Jews. :)

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